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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Opportunism at Mandela Memorial: Sign of the Times?

Watching U.S. President Barak Obama speak of his hero on December 10, 2013, something was distracting me; the rather large man signing used such exaggerated gestures that I had trouble concentrating on what Obama was saying. Little did I know that the interpreter was a “fake,” according to the Deaf Federation of South Africa. “It was horrible; an absolute circus, really, really bad, Nicole Du Toit, an official sign language interpreter, told the AP. “Only he can understand those gestures,” she added.[1]  I suspect that labeling the fiasco a “circus” skates over the underlying mentality in over-reaching and lying to cover it up.
As soon as I read that the interpreter is a fake, I suspected that the South African government fronted the man so to appear sophisticated to the world. I recalled how just hours after Nelson Mandela died, “spontaneous” dancers in formal black dresses preformed outside Mandela’s house. I had the sense of self-aggrandizing people behind the scenes taking advantage of the obvious publicity for South Africa.
To be sure, the interpreter would explain that he had been in a schizophrenic episode while he was signing and that he could not even remember having signed afterward. Hearing this “explanation,” I suspected that with so much on the line, powerful players behind the scenes may have pressured the man to lie. One American news network showed footage of the signer using strange signs at yet another occasion. Perhaps with so many schizophrenic episodes while signing, the man might have picked another profession. In other words, I suspect the mental health explanation is a fake on top of a fraud, both indicative of a broader attempt by government officials or other power brokers in South Africa to “cash in” at the nearest opportunity, regardless of any sense of solemnity in a momentous occasion.

1. Kim Hjelmgaard and Marisol Bello, “Interpreter For Deaf Branded a Fake,” USA Today, December 12, 2013.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Two Sizes Fit All: America’s Two-Party-System Stranglehold

A Rasmussen Reports poll conducted in early August 2011 found that “just 17% of likely U.S. voters think that the federal government . . . has the consent of the governed,” while 69% “believe that the government does not have that consent.” Yet an overwhelming number of Congressional incumbents is reelected. Is it that many Americans stay away from the polls on election day, or does the two-party system essentially force a choice? Voting for a third-party candidate risks the defeat of the candidate of the major party closest to one’s views. Such a vote is typically referred to as a protest or throw-away vote. Is it worth driving to the polls to do that?

A poll of 1,000 Americans conducted by Douglas E. Schoen LLC in April 2011 found that a solid majority of Americans were looking for alternatives to the two-party system. A majority of the respondents (57%) said there is a need for a third party. Nearly one-third of the respondents said that having a third party is very important. In the next month, 52% of respondents in a Gallup poll said there is a need for a third party. For the first time in Gallup’s history, a majority of Republicans said so. These readings point to more than simply a desire to vote against the closest major party without merely being a protest or throw-away vote.

Even as Republican and Democratic candidates were at the time in tune with their respective bases, these two segments of the population were becoming two legs of a three-leg stool, rather than remaining as the two defining pillars holding up the American republics. In fact, with the number of independents growing, the two bases combined no longer made up a majority of the citizens able to vote.
To be sure, the electoral systems of the American states and the federation itself have been rigged against  aspiring third parties. For example, a Green Party presence in the U.S. House of Representatives would require one of that party’s candidates to snag the highest percentage of the vote in one of the 435 legislative districts. Were fifteen percent of Floridians vote for Green Party candidates in every House district, Florida's delegation would still not include any Green Party presence. In terms of the Electoral College, many of the states have a winner-take-all system in selecting electors. Furthermore, a third-party candidate doing well in electoral votes could keep none of the candidates from getting a majority, in which case the U.S. House of Representatives would elect the U.S. President (each state delegation getting one vote). A third party would have to be dominant in that chamber, or at least in a few of the state delegations, to have any impact. The proverbial deck, ladies and gentlemen, is stacked against any third party, so merely getting one started is not apt to eventuate in much of anything, practically speaking. For fundamental reform, one must think (and act) structurally, and Americans are not very good at that, being more issue- and candidate-oriented.

The real elephant in the room is the fact that the two animals are the only ones allowed in the room. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

If the American political order has indeed been deteriorating and disintegrating, its artificial and self-perpetuating parchment walls might be too rigid to allow the vacuum to be filled by anything less than whatever would naturally fill the power-void in a complete collapse. The two major political parties, jealously guarding their joint structural advantages, have doubtlessly been all too vigilant in buttressing the very walls that keep real reform—real change—from happening at the expense of the vested interests. As a result, the electorate may be convinced that it is not possible to venture outside of the political realities of the two major parties that stultify movement. If a majority of Americans want a third party, they would have to apply popular political pressure to the two major parties themselves to level the playing field. A huge mass of dispersed political energy would be necessary, however, given the tyranny of the status quo. Indeed, such a feat might require going against the natural laws of power in human affairs. If so, the already-hardened arteries will eventually result to the death of the "perpetual union." Sadly, the determinism is utterly contrived rather than set by the fates.


Patrick H. Caddell and Douglas E. Schoen, “Expect a Third-Party Candidate in 2012,” Wall Street Journal, August 25, 2011.

Murdoch: Journalism as Vengence

According to Reuters, “News Corp, whose global media interests stretch from movies to newspapers that can make or break political careers, has endured an onslaught of negative press since a phone-hacking scandal at its News of the World tabloid” in 2011. One danger in this mix of private power even over government officials and being publicly criticized is that Rupert Murdoch could use his power in vengeance to retaliate. The public does not often suspect that such a high-profile and financially successful person could act so irresponsibility, but we ought not take what we are shown at face value. There is, after all, a public relations industry.

                                         Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corp.                                    

As reported by a few government officials and press outfits in the E.U., the News of the World tabloid’s managers had been paying off state police in Britain in order to hack the phones of government officials and celebrities, those managers reacted by retaliating by hiring at least one private detective to follow Tom Watson, a member of the British House of Commons, and Mark Lewis, a lawyer. A biographer who had been in regular contact with Rupert Murdoch over months told Frontline (PBS) that Murdoch had a habit of remarking that he had pictures of this person or another—meaning that if people did not measure up, Murdoch would destroy them publically. His newspapers, which were not that profitable anyway, were for such influence over government officials or otherwise retaliating against "enemies."

After “the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Australian Financial Review newspaper . . .  said [in March 2012] that News Corp's pay-TV smartcard security unit, NDS, had promoted piracy attacks on rivals,” Murdoch tweeted: "Seems every competitor and enemy piling on with lies and libels. So bad, easy to hit back hard, which preparing.” This reply is telling, for it makes Murdoch’s overriding instinct to exact vengeance transparent. Even referring to critics as enemies is excessive, given the possibility that Murdoch’s company had at the very least broken the law in Europe by paying off a police department and hacking into private voicemail accounts.

To claim that someone is an enemy simply for uncovering or reporting illegal or unethical activities merely points back to the source as sordid and perhaps even pathological in nature. "Enemies many different agendas, but worst old toffs and right wingers who still want last century's status quo with their monopolies," he tweeted. “Toff” itself might be a relic of a prior century; I have never heard of the word. Moreover, Murdoch’s squalid approach to business might hopefully be one day relegated to an earlier age, if there is such a thing as progress in terms of business ethics.

The lesson for us goes beyond one newspaper man, whether it be Hearst in the twentieth century or Murdoch in the twenty-first (at least physically). Might it be that we, the general public, assume too much regarding the maturity of people of position, even if the status has come in part from having built up a company from the ground up? Might it be that we ascribe too much to status itself—that we are in a status society wherein position counts for more than is entitled? Consider, for example, the childish mentality and behavior of Richard Fuld, the CEO who brought Lehman Brothers down in 2008 by piling on real estate debt to excess in an effort to catch up to JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs.

If with great power comes great responsibility—a phrase uttered by Cliff Robertson in the film, Spiderman—then what do we do when childish, vengeful people are ensconced in positions of power? Considering the damage such people can wreck out of a sense of being personally wronged, society itself has the right to step in and rid the offenders of such power. I am not suggesting a personality test that they must pass every few years like renewing a driver’s license. Rather, once scandal has broken out in a major company, a government’s justice department should be able to have a presence in the company, keeping the CEO on a firm leash.

Unfortunately, where a society (and government) finds it to be in its interest to allow private power to be amassed to such an extent that the government itself can no longer act as a corrective on a company’s CEO, then the society really is at the mercy of a spoiled child. At the very least, we ought to recognize a CEO such as Fuld or Murdoch as such. If we then look the other way, we have only ourselves to blame for whatever havoc they wreck.

Georgina Prodhan, “Rupert Murdoch Fights Back Against‘Lies and Libels,’ Declares War,” The Huffington Post, March 29, 2012.